The Big Six-O: Series Celebrates Major Anniversary

Clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Emanuel Ax

The Harriman-Jewell Series, which presented its first concert in 1965, would not exist without collaboration: collaboration between its founders, Richard Harriman and Dean Dunham, as well as between the series and the artists it presents and the Kansas City community itself.

The Series will celebrate its 60th anniversary next season emphasizing this spirit of collaboration. Three of those concerts especially exemplify that spirit: Joyce DiDonato and Kings Return Dec. 9; clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Emanuel Ax Jan. 31, 2025; and Les Arts Florissants April 11.

“These are great concerts that are representative of the season,” Clark Morris, executive and artistic director of the Harriman-Jewell Series, said. “We wanted to bring a lot of favorite artists, but with them collaborating in some way, either as an ensemble or with some other artist. So we’re smashing together great artists in some unique ways.”

For example, Anthony McGill and Emanuel Ax. McGill is the principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic and the first person of color to hold a principal role in that orchestra.

“He’s a phenomenal clarinetist, and we’ve never presented a clarinet and piano recital before,” Morris said. “Of course, every time we have a symphony orchestra, we have clarinetists on stage, but we’ve never featured the instrument like this. We put him together with the great pianist Emanuel Ax, who’s been a frequent collaborator with the series and is a favorite all over the world, and especially in Kansas City. We’re certain it’s going to be a really exciting performance.”

The Series has a long history presenting the French early music ensemble Les Arts Florissants. Founded in 1979 by the American harpsichordist William Christie, it’s considered one of the finest period instrument groups in the world.

“They’re bringing a very special program because it’s not just our anniversary but the 300th anniversary of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,” Morris said. “They have developed a program that celebrates Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which some claim is the most popular music ever written. There are some stats out there that say that there’s no music that’s been played live more often.”

Joyce DiDonato and King Return

Les Arts Florissants will be joined by violinist Théotime Langlois de Swarte to perform not only Vivaldi’s masterpiece but music by other Venetian baroque masters that will put the Four Seasons in context.

One of the biggest collaborations will be with hometown girl and international opera superstar Joyce DiDonato. Not only has the diva appeared on the series many times, but she has also often spoken of its importance to her as she was growing up and attending concerts.

“We’ve been working with Joyce on a performance that she’s building just for us and our anniversary,” Morris said. “She suggested that we bring her together with a group called Kings Return. They’re all African American men who started out doing gospel and have branched into secular music. For example, they sing this really cool rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water. One of their recordings just got a Grammy nomination.”

The program for the concert has yet to be decided, but Morris said to expect something beyond the standard classical fare.

“We’ll see what Joyce comes up with,” he said. “Our audiences have heard her on more than one occasion sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and that always brings the house down, so her artistry and voice seem to work in any genre.”

In an age dominated by technology, the human connection provided by concerts such as those on the Harriman-Jewell Series is something that is irreplaceable. Morris says that he recently read a scientific research study that compared hearing music live as opposed to hearing it streamed or recorded.

“It’s the same music, but when you hear it performed live, it stirs things in your brain that produces emotions that you don’t get when you hear it streamed or recorded,” Morris said. “I love that I have thousands of hours of music on my phone, but there is something incredibly healthy and invigorating about hearing music live. As we move into a digital world, live performance is more valuable than ever.”

To reserve tickets and for a complete listing of all concerts, go to hjseries.org.

–Patrick Neas

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